Friday, December 6, 2013

This Week in Outdoor Policy - December 6th

Ski TomTom Flynn tracks policy related to conservation and recreation for the Outdoor Alliance. Most Fridays, he summarizes the week’s top outdoor policy related headlines. With questions, news tips and angry hate mail, email him at tom [at] outdooralliance [dot] net.

Progress Towards Lifting National Park Boating Ban
As surprising as it may be, paddlers are banned from nearly all the rivers in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. Now, a bill to lift that ban is working its way through Congress. The bill to throw out the 60-year-old ban, introduced by Wyoming representative Cynthia Lummis and cosponsored by Utah representative Rob Bishop, was recently discussed in committee. Although paddlers welcome the chance to gain access to amazing whitewater that now has to be run illegally, many would admit that such a legislative fix is not ideal. The National Park Service had a chance to reconsider the ban last summer, but failed to do so. This bill would go over their heads and make the decision for them. Such management by legislation has its problems, but a situation as deeply entrenched and illogical as this warrants it. So long as the Park Service is given the authority it needs to make the change, including enacting limits on the amount of boating – which paddlers welcome – the great rivers of Yellowstone and Grand Teton can be justly, legally and sustainably enjoyed by paddlers.

Ski Area Rules Modernized
The ski resort industry is less about simple lift-accessed skiing than ever before. Due to factors far beyond their boundaries, like climate change, the economic recession and people’s changing interests, resorts are paying more and more attention to the unlikely subjects of uphill skiing and summer activities. The law governing ski areas – at least those that operate on public land leased from the Forest Service – was brought up to date in 2011, with the passage of the Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Enhancement Act. Now, the Forest Service has released their rules for how the law will be implemented. Broadly, these directives are good news for outdoor recreation. They support skinning uphill in bounds, allowing resorts the entirely reasonable option of charging for access, while “encouraging” free access too. The rules also state that approved facilities or activities themselves must “encourage” outdoor recreation and the enjoyment of nature. Some worry that the rules will usher in a plague upon our lands, with outbreaks of mountain coasters and other amusement park lesions. Indeed, the rules could be improved by clarifying some definitions to ensure that mountain biking, which is otherwise supported, is not lumped in with such ills. Overall, the rules are a welcome update for ski areas, which are ready-made places to get more people outdoors – accessing more trails and more skiing, both within and beyond the boundaries, all increasingly under their own power.

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